Sunday, October 31, 2021

Sermon for the Festival of the Reformation - Rom 3:19-28



                                                                            Rom 3:19-28



          “For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God.”  That’s what Paul tells the Romans later in this letter.  In doing so, he was sharing a basic truth of Scripture.  And it is a presupposition of all that the apostle says.  God is the judge.  He is the holy and just judge.  All people will stand before the judgment seat of God on the Last Day.  He will declare a person to be just or guilty.

          This is definitely a legal setting.  But when we hear about judgment in a legal setting, we must set aside our conception of what this means.  In our law courts there is a judge. There is a prosecutor.  There is a defendant. And there is a jury.  Ultimately, it is the jury that makes the final judgment, and the judge is there to make sure that all is done in a proper and legal fashion.

          However, in the ancient world there was only one individual who made the judgment.  It could be the king as he sat on his throne.  At the time of the first century A.D., it was the Roman governor in a province who sat on the judgment seat. An individual appeared before this one judge, and the judge determined guilt or innocence. The judge determined the punishment that was to be enacted.  Think about Jesus’s trial before Pontius Pilate, and you have a classic example of what this looked like.  This is the way God’s Word describes the setting of God’s judgment – the individual standing before God the judge.

          God’s Word has revealed that God is the one judge who will judge all people.  God is holy and just, and he will judge all people on the basis of his law.  He will judge people on the basis of his divine will by which he has ordered this creation.  Now in the last twenty seconds of human history, this idea has been found to be absurd.  There is no such thing as “truth” we are told.  There are no eternal standards by which a person can be judged.  And for that matter, we are told that there is no personal God who would judge us anyway. But, the psalmist replies: “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’”  And as for their being no eternal truths … God laughs, and he gets the last laugh.

          The medieval world was not so foolish.  It knew perfectly well that we will all stand before the judgment seat of God.  It knew that God is the holy and just judge.  It knew that we are not holy or just – we are sinners. So the question was, how could an individual be justified? How could an individual be declared just – innocent - by God at the judgment?

          Of course, the Church knew that Jesus Christ had died on the cross and risen from the dead to win the forgiveness of sins. You can’t read the New Testament and miss this completely.  But in the actual application of this saving work to an individual the Church’s theology said that God’s grace equipped you to participate in the process – to do your part – that led to final salvation.

          And the Church said that while Christ’s forgiveness covered the guilt of sin, you still owed God a penalty because you had offended him.  This penalty was addressed by penance.  If the penalty was not sufficiently paid off, then the individual ended up in purgatory where a painful process of purification would prepare the individual for full salvation.  Since people were always sinning, they were always racking up more penalty – more than their penance could address.  In this book keeping mentality, individuals thought that they faced hundreds or thousands of years in purgatory.

          What was a person to do?  They went on pilgrimages, and paid for masses to be said, and bought indulgences because these all helped to pay off the penalty owed.  If you were really serious about your salvation, like Martin Luther was, then you entered the “religious” life – you became a monk or nun because here the whole life was one of penance.

          But what Luther discovered was that no matter how much you did, you could never know if you had done enough.  As he studied Scripture he realized that this was because the whole system was set up on the basis of the law – on the basis of doing.  And this can never be a way that sinners can deal with the holy God. The apostle Paul says in our text, “Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.”

          Works of the law – doing the law can’t bring the status of being declared just by God.  Instead, the law only reveals that we are sinners who sin.  Ever since the Fall, sin is a power that has controlled us.  Earlier in this chapter, Paul said, “For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, as it is written: ‘None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.’”

          The problem is not the law. As Paul says later in Romans, “So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.”  After all, the law is an expression of God’s divine will and ordering for life.  Instead, we are the problem.  We are fallen sinners from the moment of our conception.  We have lost the image of God and are not capable of living in a holy way.  Paul says in our text, “For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

All Ten Commandments show us our sin, but you don’t need to be beyond the first one to see this: You shall have no other gods.  In our thoughts, our words, and our deeds we put other things before God.  We trust in them more. We value them more. We think about them more. We find our peace and security in them, instead of God.

For sinners – for us – the law can never be the means by which we can have a righteous standing before God.  What Martin Luther rediscovered for the Church is the fact that God’s saving action to put all things right is a gift.  It is purely a matter of God’s grace – his unmerited loving favor. It is something that God gives on account of Jesus Christ’s death. And he gives this by faith – faith in Jesus Christ.

The apostle says in our text: “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it-- the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.”  This saving action that gives us a righteous status before God does not occur through the law.  But it is something that God’s Word in the Old Testament had promised. 

          Paul says that God’s righteousness has been manifested now – a righteousness that is through faith in Jesus Christ.  It has been manifested now because God has acted in a dramatic and definitive way through his Son. The apostle reveal in our text that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.”

          God has redeemed us in Christ Jesus – he has freed us from sin.  He did this by putting Jesus forward as the sacrifice to atone for our sin.  The Greek word that is translated as “propitiation” recalls the mercy seat that was the cover of the Ark of the Covenant.  On the Day of Atonement, the blood of animals that had been sacrificed was sprinkled on the mercy seat in order make atonement for Israel’s sins.  This was necessary so that the holy God could continue to dwell in Israel’s presence at the tabernacle.

          Jesus died on the cross as the sacrifice that atoned for our sins.  Paul had said in the first chapter, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men.”  The holy God pours out his wrath and judgment against sin.  That’s what he does. That’s what God the Father did to Jesus Christ on the cross in your place.

          Now you receive the redemption won by Christ through faith in him. There are no works involved. As Paul says, we are “justified by his grace as a gift.”  This faith is not a work.  In fact, in chapter four the apostle defines it as the opposite of doing.  This faith worked by the Holy Spirit simply receives the gift from God.

          Paul says in our text that God has done this “to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”  God has shown himself to be just because he has judged sin through the suffering and death of Jesus on the cross. But he has also justified us – he has given us justification – through faith in Jesus who died on the cross. This means that already now, we know the verdict of the last day. Indeed, we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. But because of faith in Jesus Christ we have been declared by God to be righteous.  It is true now.  It will be true on the Last Day.

          In our text we hear about the death of Jesus.  But of course, when Paul talks about faith in Christ, he means faith in the Lord who died and rose from the dead.  Paul began Romans by referring to the “Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord.” Or as he will say later in chapter ten, “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.”

          On this Festival of the Reformation, we give thanks to God for his servant Martin Luther.  Through Luther, the Gospel was returned to the center of the Church’s life – the truth that we are justified by grace, on account of Christ, through faith.  This is a truth that Luther confessed at the risk of his own life.  It is a truth that each one of us must also believe and confess in our lives. 

It is the truth – the good news – that we need to confess by sharing it with others. That’s what Martin Luther did. That’s what the apostle Paul did. As he told the Romans at the beginning of this letter: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” In the Gospel we find the assurance of salvation – that we are justified and ready to stand before the judgment seat of God. That is good news that everyone needs to hear.






Thursday, October 28, 2021

Feast of St. Simon and St. Jude, Apostles


Today is the Feast of St. Simon and St. Jude, Apostles.  The New Testament contains four lists of the apostles (Matthew 10:2-4; Mark 3:16-19; Luke 6:14-16; Acts 1:13).  In these lists the tenth and eleventh places are occupied by Simon and Jude.  Simon is a called “the Cananean” which may mean that he was from the city of Cana.  However, it may also be a transliteration of the Aramaic word for “zealous,” which is what Luke and Acts call him (“the Zealot”; Luke 6:15; Acts 1:13).  It is unclear whether this describes his character or associates him with a later group in Judaism that opposed Roman rule. Jude was apparently also known as Thaddeus (Matthew 10:3; Mark 3:18).  According to Church tradition, Simon and Jude journeyed together as missionaries to Persia and were martyred there.

Scripture reading:

These things I command you, so that you will love one another.  If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me. (John 15:17-21) 

Collect of the Day:

Almighty God, You chose Your servants Simon and Jude to be numbered among the glorious company of the apostles.  As they were faithful and zealous in their mission, so may we with ardent devotion make known the love and mercy of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.



Sunday, October 24, 2021

Sermon for the Twenty-first Sunday after Trinity - Jn 4:46-54

                                                                                      Trinity 21

                                                                                Jn 4:46-54



          I will never forget the impression made on me when we brought Timothy, our first child, home from the hospital.  I was struck by the fact that here was this tiny little life that was completely dependent on Amy and me. And along with this came the profound sense that his needs would always come before my own – that I would do anything that I could in order make sure that he was safe and healthy.

          I assume that all parents feel this way about their children. And of course, that feeling doesn’t change as they get older. The same commitment to their health and well being – to doing anything necessary – continues.  Here at Good Shepherd we have experienced a remarkable example of this. When Ryan broke the bones in his lower leg playing football, it did not seem like it was anything serious.  Of course, there was disappointment that his season was ended and concern that it would impact the baseball season.  But people break bones all the time. The doctors set them, they heal, and everything goes on as normal.

          Except in Ryan’s case, nothing turned out to be normal. First there were problems with the alignment of the bones.  Then an infection developed that was related to the metal implants in the bone.  The doctors seemed to be unable to treat the infection.  Ryan had surgery after surgery at St. Louis Children’s Hospital – I think in the end he had twenty one of them. 

          Jay and Dayna made trip after trip after trip to St. Louis for surgeries, doctor’s appointments and physical therapy for Ryan. They were responsible for administering antibiotics on a schedule that basically controlled their lives.  Yet they willingly did all these things because Ryan is their child. And we give thanks to God that in the end the infection was resolved, the bones healed, and Ryan is even playing baseball again.

          In our Gospel lesson this morning, we see the same kind of commitment and love by a father for his sick child.  He goes to Jesus seeking healing.  Jesus doesn’t do what the father wants – and yet in end our Lord provides healing and so much more.

          Our text begins by telling us: “So he came again to Cana in Galilee, where he had made the water wine. And at Capernaum there was an official whose son was ill. When this man heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he went to him and asked him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death.”

          Jesus had been in Jerusalem for the Passover.  It is John’s Gospel that tells us of how Jesus made several trips to Jerusalem, including trips for more than one Passover.  It is his Gospel that allows to understand that Jesus’ ministry lasted more than one year.

          Jesus had performed miracles in Jerusalem and in the verse just before our text John says, “So when he came to Galilee, the Galileans welcomed him, having seen all that he had done in Jerusalem at the feast. For they too had gone to the feast.”

          A royal official, probably for Herod Antipas, was in Capernaum where his son was sick and near death. When he heard that Jesus was back in Galilee, he made the trip to Cana in order to seek Jesus’ help.  Cana is twenty four miles away from Capernaum – about the same distance from here to Murphysboro. The trip is uphill, because Capernaum is located on the Sea of Galilee at a lower elevation. But the official made the trip to Cana because Jesus was there and he saw in Jesus the one chance to save his son.

          When he arrived the official asked Jesus to come down to Capernaum and heal his son, because he was at the point of death. However, our Lord replied, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” This reply seems rather harsh.  However, there are two things we should note.  First, in Greek one can indicate whether “you” is singular or plural.  Here it is plural, so Jesus expresses this comment to the whole group present with him, and not just to the official.

          And second, in Jesus’ statement we find an evaluation of the man’s motives.  The official had come to see Jesus in Cana because he saw our Lord as a last chance to save his son.  He didn’t come because he had faith in Christ.  He came because he was desperate to save his child, and he would try anything.

          The official could have been put off by Jesus’ statement.  He could have been offended, and left.  But instead he replied, “Sir, come down before my child dies.”  He returned and implored Jesus yet more fervently.

          When our Lord answered, he didn’t do what the official asked of him. The official asked Jesus to come to Capernaum and heal his son.  Instead, Jesus replied, “Go; your son will live.” He told the official to return to Capernaum and declared that his son would live. John tells us, “The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way.”  The man did not receive what he had asked of Jesus.  Instead, he received Jesus’ word – his promise of healing for his son.  We learn that he believed Jesus’ word, and therefore he began his journey back to Capernaum.

          As he was going back down, he was met by his servants who were on their way find the official and share wonderful news: his son was recovering!  He asked them the hour when he began to get better, and they told him that it had occurred the day before at the seventh hour. Then we hear in our text: “The father knew that was the hour when Jesus had said to him, ‘Your son will live.’ And he himself believed, and all his household.”

          The official went to Jesus as someone who saw our Lord as a last chance for his son.  He didn’t receive what he wanted – Jesus didn’t come to Capernaum with him.  But through Jesus’ word he received what he needed … and so much more.  He received the healing of his son. But more importantly, he was drawn to faith in Jesus.  And this didn’t just happen for him. We learn that his whole household also now believed.

          In the official’s experience, we see the manner in which God often deals with us. The official received what seemed like a “no,” as Jesus said to those present, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.”  We know the experience of disappointments, hardships, and challenges. These things in themselves seem to indicate that God does not love us and is not caring for us.  So we pray to God and ask him to do something. And nothing happens. Or perhaps things even get worse.

          The temptation is to conclude that God doesn’t really care, or to get angry with God, or even to begin to give up on God.  But like the official, God deals with us in this way in order to draw us closer to him.  He does so in order to prompt us to grow deeper in faith. He does this because we are fallen people in whom the old Adam is still present, and we need this.

          Although it seemed as if Jesus had rejected the man’s request, the official responded with an even more urgent plea: “Sir, come down before my child dies.” This needs to be our response as well.  We turn to God with yet more fervor. We hold up God’s word and promises before him.  And when we do so, the Holy Spirit is causing us to grow in our trust and faith. The apparent “no” of God is really the “yes” that seeks to draw us closer to him.

          The last statement of our text points us to the reason that we can trust this is so.  There John says: “This was now the second sign that Jesus did when he had come from Judea to Galilee.”  These words call our attention to the fact that Jesus is in Cana.  As the beginning of our text states, it was at Cana that our Lord turned water into wine.  After this miracle John says, “This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.” 

          John is once again telling us that Jesus’ miracles – his signs – reveal his glory. But this glory always points to the cross.  Paradoxically to us, it is in the cross that Jesus’ glory is revealed. During Holy Week Jesus said, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”  Jesus’ glory revealing signs all point to his death.  Our Lord went on to say, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” Then John adds, “He said this to show” – literally, ‘to sign’ – “by what kind of death he was going to die.”

          It is in the cross that Jesus revels his glory because the Word – the Son of God – became flesh to be the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  Jesus was lifted up and died on the cross in order to free you from sin. He was lifted up so that through faith in Jesus we might receive forgiveness and life.  Our Lord told Nicodemus, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.”

          Jesus’ glory was revealed by his death on the cross, because the cross and death were not the end.  Our Lord said, “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”  In his resurrection and ascension, Jesus’ glory has continued to be revealed.  Because of the resurrection of Jesus, we see the cross for what it really was – the revelation of God’s saving glory for us.

          This truth – that the cross is not the absence of God, but instead his powerful saving presence – now guides the way we look at our life.  In the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ we receive the confidence to trust and believe in God no matter what is happening in our lives.  When the circumstances of our life seem to be God saying “no” to us, we press on in faith, returning to the Lord yet again, just as the official does today in our text. We do so because in the resurrection of Jesus we have already received God’s great “yes.” 

          You have been born again of water and the Spirit.  God has given you faith in the crucified and risen Lord.  He seeks to cause you to grow yet stronger in this faith and trust.  This occurs as we encounter the cross in our own lives.  But because we know the risen Lord, these circumstances do not turn us away.  Instead, we press on more fervently in faith toward God.  In this way God kills the old Adam in us, so that more and more we can live as those who have been born again.

          In our text today we see a sign.  Jesus does not do what the official asks.  Instead he speaks his word of promise which calls the official to faith, and then also gives him the very thing for which he hoped – the life of his child.  This sign points us to the sign of our Lord’s death and resurrection, in which we have the assurance of forgiveness, eternal life, and the confidence to trust and believe no matter what we encounter.

          John says near the end of this Gospel, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”  We return constantly to God in faith because in the crucified and risen Lord we do have life.  In Jesus we have life – a life that we can be confident carries us through every circumstance as we trust in God’s love, now and forever.



Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Mark's thoughts: The good news is that Jesus said it would be this way


We know that we live in a time in which the Church no longer holds a position of respect in western culture.  Where the culture at one time was quite supportive of the Church in its general outlook and expectations, now it is instead often quite antagonistic.   Being a Christian in a world that denies there is any such thing as truth, and celebrates sexual sin of all kinds, is increasingly difficult.  It seems as if more and more we see people drift away from the Church.

These developments have caused much consternation in the Church.  It is only natural to ask, “What can we do to change this?”  While the prospects for altering the trajectory of our culture seem to be quite slight, people also question what can be done to bring more people into the Church and to prevent Christians from giving up the faith.  Sometimes, the answer given is that the Church needs to change in order to be “more relevant” to the world.  Since the Enlightenment of the eighteenth century, Christians have engaged in the project of trying to make the Church more acceptable to the world.  However, the end result of this is always that the Church ends up becoming like the world, and when the Church seems so much like the world people rightly conclude that they don’t need the Church.

When consideration focuses on Christians who drift away from the Church and end up having no relationship to her, there is a strong tendency to blame the Church.  The questions are asked: What could the Church have done to prevent this?  What does the Church need to do differently or better in order prevent others from being lost? 

It is always important to consider these questions honestly.  We will find areas where the Church needs to do a better job.  We have not emphasized sufficiently that responsibility for raising children in the faith and forming Christians for life is first and foremost the responsibility of parents in the home.  The Small Catechism was never meant to be turned into a junior dogmatics textbook used only in instruction at Church.  Again and again, the sections of the Small Catechism begin with the words, “As the head of the family should teach it in a simple way to his household.” The Church is a key support in this process, but where parents do not take responsibility for teaching the faith to their children in what they say and do, we cannot be surprised if they drift away from the faith as young adults.

Likewise, the Church has been guilty of “dumbing down” the content that is taught to children and youth.  While academically we expect that the school setting should advance the learning and challenge students, in Church we often are satisfied with a repetition of very basic content. This can leave youth entirely unprepared for the intellectual challenges presented by our culture which they are certainly encountering in high school, and await them with crushing pressure at college.

The Church must always seek to do her best … and then better.  We are grieved by the loss of Christians who drift way.  But as we consider this, we must also remember that the Lord Jesus has already told us how things are going to happen.  In the Parable of the Sower said:

A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear. (Matthew 13:3-9)

When the disciples ask our Lord about the meaning of the parable he said:

Hear then the parable of the sower: When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty. (Matthew 13:18-23)

We should immediately be struck by the fact that two thirds of the seed that results in faith does not ultimately prove to be fruitful – it does not last.  In our day “tribulation and persecution” does not mean imprisonment or death.  Instead, it means cultural disapproval.  It means being labeled as “intolerant,” or “homophobic or “on the wrong side of history.” This proves too much for some Christians, and they fall away.  The “cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches” are all the false gods that surround us.  The gods of self-autonomy, of independence and the freedom to focus on one’s own beliefs and desires, and of cultural affirmation, all choke the Word of God.

 Jesus Christ said that there would be people who would hear the Gospel, believe, and then fall away.  So why are we surprised when this is exactly what happens?  We are saddened, but we should not be surprised.  We do all we can to prevent this from happening to individuals, but we can’t make the mistake of believing that the Church is always responsible because of what she did or did not do. The Lord Jesus said this would happen, and if we believe his word, then we must accept that this will be a reality in the life of the Church.

 However, that is not all Jesus said, and truly, it is not the most important part. He also said, “As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty” (Matthew 13:23).  Jesus’ promise is that despite the apparent wastefulness of the sower and the loss that occurs, the end result is an abundant harvest.  God’s Word of the Gospel does not fail.  It does not fail because it is the word of the crucified and risen Lord.  Christ has promised that it produces fruit, and so we can operate in the confidence that this is exactly what it does. 

 Are we saddened by the seed that does not last and bear fruit? Yes.  Do we seek to avert this result whenever and however we can? Yes.  Will people still drift away from the faith? Yes.  And the good news is that Jesus told us it would be this way, because he has left no doubt that his word is producing and will produce an abundant harvest.  The parable ends on a note of encouragement and hope.  These should guide the way we think about how things are going and how they will turn out, for they are the words of the risen and ascended Lord.  He is not, and will not, be wrong.







Sunday, October 17, 2021

Sermon for the Twentieth Sunday after Trinity - Mt 22:1-14


Trinity 20

                                                                            Mt 22:1-14



          Imagine the following scenario.  You are invited to the wedding of significant person in your community – a person of great influence and wealth.  The wedding is going to held in a large church.  The wedding reception will take place at a very upscale country club setting.  This is sure to be a very classy affair done with great taste and no expense spared.

          So how would you choose to dress in order to attend the wedding and the reception that follows?  Common sense tells us that we would need to dress well, and not in our normal everyday attire. We would need to dress in a way that was fitting for the occasion.

          Now imagine that you have attended the wedding and are at the wedding reception. There you see a man who is wearing cut off jeans and a tank top with the logo of a heavy metal band. What is your reaction to seeing this? Probably it is something along the lines of, “What in the world was that guy thinking when he got dressed?”  After all he is wearing something that is completely inappropriate for the occasion and setting.  In truth, dressing like that for this occasion doesn’t show much respect.

          I want you to keep this image in mind as we consider our Gospel lesson today, and walk our way through the parable that Jesus tells.  It will help provide the key to understanding what happens at the end.

          Our text takes place during Holy Week as Jesus interacts with the Jewish religious leaders who are trying to trip him up and find some reason to bring accusations against him.  This is the third of three parables that Jesus tells which are aimed at these religious leaders.

          Our Lord begins by saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son, 

and sent his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding feast, but they would not come.”  As you have heard from this pulpit many times in the past, the phrase “kingdom of heaven,” is simply a Jewish way of saying “kingdom of God.” And the kingdom of God in Jesus’ preaching is the reign of God that had arrived in Jesus and his ministry.

          A king giving a wedding feast for his son was a very big deal. This was the kind of event in which not only was it an honor to be included, but there was the expectation that those invited would attend.  People showed by their respect and obedience to the king by attending.  However, in this case something shocking happened: the people were unwilling to come.

          So the king sent out other servants saying, “Tell those who are invited, See, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding feast.”  The king again invited the people to come to the wedding feast.  He described how had prepared a lavish banquet.  Remember, meat like this was not a staple of the diet in the Mediterranean world. So the opportunity to have this kind of food was tasty luxury.

          However, the people paid no attention. Some went off to their own affairs.  Other even seized the king’s servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them.  This behavior was truly shocking.  No one would act this way toward a king. And the king’s reaction in the parable is equally dramatic.  Jesus says, “The king was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.” 

          It’s not hard to understand the meaning of the parable thus far. The king is God, and the Son is Jesus.  God the Father had sent Jesus to his people Israel as the Messiah.  He was the fulfillment of all of God’s promises to Israel in the Old Testament.  In Jesus, the kingdom of heaven – the reign of God had arrived.  However, the leaders had rejected Jesus, and they certainly had not encouraged people to believe in him.  In fact already in chapter twelve of the Gospel we learn, “But the Pharisees went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him.”

          The city that is destroyed in the parable certainly refers to Jerusalem, which happened in 70 A.D. as the Romans responded to the Jewish revolt. In Jesus’ ministry and that of his apostles, the Gospel had been offered to the nation.  Just as the Scriptures describe salvation as a great feast, God had offered this in Christ. But the leaders and the majority of the people had rejected Jesus.  In fact, the leaders would get their way.  They would use trumped up charges to get the Romans to execute Jesus on a cross.

          Jesus’ death on the cross came as no surprise to him.  Our Lord had said just as they were about to enter Jerusalem for the last time, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem. And the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day.”  Jesus Christ went to Jerusalem to die.  He went to die as the atoning sacrifice that has won forgiveness for you.  And then on Easter, God raised him from the dead as he defeated death.  Jesus brought the reign of God as he won the forgiveness of sins and began the resurrection that we will receive on the Last Day.

          God was acting in his grace and mercy to give salvation.  In the second half of the parable Jesus says about the king, “Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding feast is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find.’ And those servants went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good. So the wedding hall was filled with guests.”

          The first guests had shown that they were not worthy by the way they had shamefully insulted the king and his son.  But the king would not have his wedding feast be empty. And so he sent out his servants to gather in all. They brought in both the bad and the good. This is a reminder that God’s grace and mercy knows no bounds. 

Though probably this describes the initial ongoing work to proclaim the Gospel to the descendants of Abraham, we can’t overlook the fact that we were later addons to the guest list of the feast of salvation. As Gentiles, we had no claim to God’s covenant with Israel. In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus says of the cup at the Last Supper, "Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”  By Jesus’ death and resurrection we have been included in the new covenant. Each time we receive the Sacrament of the Altar we receive the assurance and guarantee that we are indeed part of God’s forgiven people.

By their very nature, Jesus parables often contain features that we would call hyperbole – features that are “over the top,” and grab our attention.  In this parable, people have the audacity to reject the king’s invitation, and even kill his servants. The king then responds by sending his army to destroy the city.

But at the end of the parable our Lord includes something that just seems odd.  Jesus concludes the parable by saying, “But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment. And he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’”

A man is invited to the wedding.  Then he is condemned and thrown out because he isn’t wearing a wedding garment.  Now there is no evidence that guests were provided with a wedding garment by their host.  In fact, there wasn’t any such thing as a “wedding garment.”  Instead, what people wore to a wedding was a normal clean festive garment.  The man had not bothered to put on appropriate clothing you should wear to a wedding banquet.  Think back to the man at beginning of the sermon who showed up in cut offs and a heavy metal tank top.  This action was an insult to the king and his son, and it ties the man to the previous people who were condemned by the king – the people who showed themselves not to be worthy.

In Matthew’s Gospel, being “worthy” is defined by how a person stands in relation to Jesus.  When Jesus sent out the apostles in chapter ten to proclaim the kingdom of God that has arrived in Christ, a town or village was defined as worthy if they received and accepted the message.

Everything about our life is defined by Jesus Christ – it is defined by faith in the Lord and how we act because of this.  In chapter sixteen, Jesus had asked disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” After they reported the various answers such as, John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah or one of the prophets, he asked them the really important question: “But who do you say that I am?” 

Jesus addresses that same question to us through the Gospel. In faith we confess, “You are our Lord, who died for our sins and rose from the dead.” But just because we confess this today, doesn’t mean that we will confess it tomorrow or next year.  And just because we say these words, doesn’t mean that we act in ways that demonstrate the truth of this faith.

In the parable, the man was at the wedding banquet.  But the way he had dressed did not show respect toward the king and his son.  His actions showed that he was not worthy.  The experience of the man warns us that we cannot take Jesus for granted.  First, we must continue to be believe in him as our crucified and risen Lord. And second, this faith must determine the way we live.

Jesus said, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

Jesus’ words call us to repentance, for there have been times we put other people and things ahead of Christ.  His words draw us to his gifts of the Means of Grace.  For there the crucified and risen Lord gives us the forgiveness that he won. There the Spirit strengthens us in faith so that we can confess Jesus as Lord both in what we say, and in what we do.  Jesus words lead us to see our daily life as the setting in which we confess him as Lord by the way we live. 

God has called you to faith through the Gospel.  You have received the reign of God which arrived in Jesus Christ. Through faith and baptism you are forgiven because of Jesus’ death and resurrection for you.  God has graciously invited you to the feast of salvation.  So that we may continue to confess Jesus as Lord both in what we say and what we do, there is nothing better for us to do than to now come to the foretaste of this feast in the Sacrament of the Altar.  Here Jesus gives you his true body and blood, given and shed for you. Here you receive forgiveness.  Here you receive assurance that you are part of God’s people.  Here you receive food for the new man so that you can confess Jesus as Lord each day in what you say and do.